The draft is finally in the books and it’s shaping up to be one of, if not the best, of John Elway’s as general manager.
Elway kicked things off by trading down from the tenth pick and selecting tight end Noah Fant out of Iowa. While missing out on Devin Bush could hurt, without that trade down there’s no way the Broncos are able to land Drew Lock in the second round. It should also be noted that the Broncos reportedly chose to pass on Bush because head coach Vic Fangio wasn’t a fan. If there’s anyone you should trust when it comes to linebackers, it’s Fangio who is widely regarded as the best linebacker coach of the era if not ever.
On Day 2 of the draft, the Broncos got two more round one talents in offensive lineman Dalton Risner and quarterback Drew Lock, before snagging the best pass-rushing interior defensive lineman college had to offer in Dre’Mont Jones.
After knocking it out of the park on the first two days of the draft, Day 3 was less impressive. The Broncos took Justin Hollins, who most regarded as a seventh-round talent, in the fifth, and Juwann Winfree, who most saw as an undrafted talent, in the sixth.
While this draft class has the talent to be the foundation of the Broncos for years to come, what can fans expect from the highly touted class in year one?
In short, not a whole lot, as this class likely won’t pay true dividends until the 2020 season.
For starters, while Noah Fant was a great value pick and has the upside to be the centerpiece of Denver’s aerial assault for years to come, tight ends rarely produce well their first season in the league. Take O.J. Howard for example, the last tight end to be a top-20 pick. Over the 14 games he played in his rookie season, Howard caught six touchdown passes and caught just 26 passes for 432 yards. Then, he took the leap in year two despite starting in six fewer games, catching 34 passes for 565 yards and five scores.
George Kittle is another terrific example. In his rookie season, Kittle caught 43 passes for 515 yards and two scores. In year two, Kittle more than doubled his production reeling in 88 passes for 1,377 yards and five scores in one of the best statistical seasons ever by a tight end.
Even though Fant is a better prospect coming out of college than either Kittle or Howard, Broncos Country shouldn’t expect much production out of the former Hawkeye until year two.
Of all the Broncos’ rookies, none should have a more immediate impact than Dalton Risner. Elway fixed the hole at right tackle through free agency, but the interior of the offensive line was one of the biggest problems on the roster. Connor McGovern, who excelled at right guard last season, was being slotted as a center where he was among the worst in the league. Elijah Wilkinson was pegged as the starting right guard, where he was among the worst in the league.
Enter Dalton Risner. Risner is the rare offensive lineman who could play anywhere on the offensive line. That being said, his starting experience in college was at tackle, and more importantly, center. In 2019, Risner can kill three birds with one stone, filling the hole at center by starting there, which will allow McGovern to move back to guard, and Wilkinson to return to playing swing-tackle.
Broncos fans should hope for as little production as possible out of Drew Lock in year one. While Joe Flacco certainly isn’t hyping anyone up about the 2019 season, the longer Lock sits, the more likely it is that he realizes his sky-high potential. The Mizzou standout could start midway through the season, and provide the offense some extra juice, but the more time he has to sit, learn and work on his footwork, the better the odds are that he becomes the quarterback the Broncos have desperately been searching for.
Dre’Mont Jones has incredible talent, but he’s the hardest to forecast of Denver’s rookie class. The Ohio State standout has the versatility to play anywhere along the Broncos’ defensive line, and where Fangio and the rest of defensive staff decide to play him will determine how productive he is. In year one, Jones would be best suited to play opposite of Derek Wolfe on passing downs, as he needs to work on his run-stopping. There would be no better pass-rushing unit in the league than the line of Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, Dre’Mont Jones and Bradley Chubb.
Day 3 picks Justin Hollins and Juwann Winfree will likely be used as special teamers in their first year in the pros. Hollins was among the most athletic linebackers in the entire class, making him a perfect fit for special teams. He could also see some time as a rotational pass rusher behind Miller and Chubb, but he needs to refine his technique and his hands. Winfree should be a gunner from day one, as it will be hard to fight his way up the receiving depth chart with Courtland Sutton, Emmanuel Sanders, DaeSean Hamilton, and the highly-underrated Tim Patrick all slotted above him.